There is big, big trouble brewing for the once proud and happy family known as the Ottawa Senators. All kinds of new faces, (even an as yet-to-be-online new black jersey despite it being part of a sales pitch) can’t mask the obvious that this is still, alas, the S.O. S. (Same Old Senators), a gang that cannot play 60 minutes of hockey, game in and game out.
To a tee, they all talk a great game but melt down in the heat of the ice. Shall we baptize them the Ottawa Bullchippers. The media, which has long had a vexing habit of issuing free passes to all the usual culprits, so fearful of upsetting the suits at Scotiabank Place, most notably Mr. RAM (team president Roy A. Mlakar) and losing their perks in the process, are starting to notice.
Only this week have we begun to hear criticism being handed out to players such as the "Little Three" (as Red Fisher referred to Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley in the Montreal Gazette after the great Canadiens crunching) and the overpaid, underachieving Mike Fisher, Chris Phillips and Antoine Vermette, just to round out the core of what is fast becoming a bad apple. They are even questioning first-year coach Craig Hartsburg's strategy and line combinations.
Any day now, someone not named Allard will have the fortitude of questioning Alfie's leadership, especially in these turbulent times where his team is now a mere shadow of the very good ones of just a few years ago. Seriously people, what is our brother Daniel saying, or not saying, that the led the sucks to give us that disgusting effort against the 30th seed Islanders last Thursday?
Yet, inexplicably, no one in the print media has thought of criticizing Bryan Murray's track record as GM, or his choice to recycle a coach (as this site's Duane Rollins said five months ago). What is this nonsense? Another home town discount?
Maybe I have it wrong and it's Murray, not the players, who’s been around this town far too long. Because, just like government, mediocrity quickly sets when you operate under a climate of patronage and senate-like appointments, which is exactly what the Pontiac Professor has done since he replaced John Muckler as GM in June 2007. I am not sure where his mind was when he offered those long-term, no-trade or no-movement clause contracts to Phillips, Alfie, Fisher, Heatley and Spezza but he will rue the day.
OIt might also help if Murray had refrained from losing stars to free agency for zilch or getting players one or two years too late. The current team is thus left with an aging and lead-footed defensive corps, two No. 2 goalies and an alarming lack of offensive punch past the Pizza Line. That is, whenever Hartsburg sees fit to give them more than the obligatory power play duty.
I offer you Exhibit A, the players that have left Ottawa under Bryan Murray’s tenure and Exhibit B, the players he brought over during the same time span. You can't excuse all of this to the salary cap.
- Exhibit A: Tom Preissing, Brian Pothier, Peter Schaefer, Patrick Eaves, Ray Emery, Wade Redden, Andrej Meszaros
- Exhibit B: Luke Richardson, Shean Donovan, Jason Smith, Joe Corvo, Alexandre Picard, Filip Kuba, Jesse Winchester, Jarkko Ruutu, Alex Auld
Unless Hartsburg, already on his third NHL stint and who was hired with a very clear mandate of making the team more accountable but has failed miserably thus far, can miraculously turn around this dysfunctional bunch, and fast might I add, Craig’s List Of Heartless Burgers will likely miss the playoffs this year. No one is holding their breath on that one though. Why? Maybe because his personality and image remind us much more of Rick Bowness than Mike Keenan. Or Pat Quinn and John Tortorella, all coaches who will never be accused of being yes-men.
While Ottawa missing this year's dance wouldn’t be catastrophic, and in fact may be conducive to those long-awaited changes that many observers have been clamoring for, I am not sure this team could afford a long and dry spell.
Hence more reasons for owner Eugene Melnyk to grasp the urgency of the situation and clean house immediately. There are no longer any valid reasons to wait, especially since GM Brian Burke is currently available and will undoubtedly be scooped up by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the next week.
I hear that Mlakar and Burke are old buddies. Why then, it’s quite simple. Move Murray up to become the Mighty SOPO's full-time aide-de-camp and bring in Burke to be GM with carte blanche to do as he pleases which, would include, getting a kick-ass coach and firing the entire marketing crew, among other things.
So it is Eugene's move. Whether Gene Gene The Dancing Around The Obvious Machine acts with the blinding speed of Alexander Ovechkin going to the net or of Jason Spezza back-checking will go a long way in determining the future of this suddenly very fragile franchise.
Captain Alfie's toughest task is staying blameless (Oct. 21)